So there are many things hard about working in an emergency, that downright suck in fact (warning, this is not a serious blog). This job, much like any other job, has its down moments. There's many but so far, these are the things that are reaaaally not my favorite part of the job.
This year, I'm facing the first Christmas away from my family (boohoo, I sound like such a baby). But you don't understand. Christmas in the Philippines? Epic. Celebrating is supposed to start as soon as the -ber syllable begins in the calendar (... September. Just making sure you get it). Christmas carols will start that early. Pinoys will identity crisis in shopping malls when stores start putting up Halloween decorations right next to Christmas trees and wreaths (and believe me, sometimes only foreigners get the irony). We'll take a quick break and celebrate Thanksgiving in between the Christmas season (because you know, Pinoys understand the value of celebrating the Pilgrims and eating turkey because we can). The traditions are incredible. Simbang Gabi or early early morning mass was one of my favorite traditions growing up. Waking up while it was still pitch dark and cold (cold for the tropics, okay, don't judge my warm-bloodedness) and then dozing off in the middle because it was way to early and then jolting back awake at the end of the celebrations in time for hot bibingka and tsokolate-e. And the food, dear God, the food. In my mom's side of the family, Noche Buena is epic, with my aunts outdoing themselves by cooking their best dishes in an effort to mercy kill or at least food coma their children. On my dad's side, it's a different kind of epic when tsokolate-e is served in a silver tea service and there are 500 different kinds of ham and meats. Every person in the world should experience Christmas in the Philippines.
This year is the first time I'm not going to though. Last year, I spent New Year's working in the Typhoon Pablo response and spent the night in my room, jumping at the firecrackers and gunshots (because, guns firing are apparently normal in Bislig. NOT FOR ME THOUGH. I must have aged an extra year that night). In a family and with a wonderful mom like mine who has ingrained the importance of family during the holidays, it's a bit tough missing out on this one (my mother has asked me FIFTEEN HUNDRED TIMES when I'm coming home for Christmas. I think selective amnesia in the form of denial is happening with that one, poor woman). Sure, it's not like I won't celebrate it here in some kind of way... but there's a reason why you try to be with family for Christmas especially when you grow up and realize that it won't quite be so easy to find the time to be with family.
There's also the fact that today is my first Sunday in two months! Even when we moved from having a day off every week (as opposed to working 7 days a week in the month following the earthquake), it's incredibly hard not to work. In the last couple of weeks though, I've hit the pit of my energy levels and was riding on fumes and finally decided that I'd be serious about taking a break today and recharging. I promised myself I wouldn't open my work laptop and so far so good... except I still have deadlines and will most likely break that promise closer to midnight because it's impossible, I can't not work today either! But at least for the most part of the day, I've had a good rest and felt more like myself than I have in awhile.
I am a crazy homebody/creature of habit and love my things in order and so I'm a bit homesick. I miss my family and friends. My sister and I are holding off on watching the Day of the Doctor because Doctor Who is one of our religions and we have to watch it together (and also Matt Smith is leaving and I haven't even gotten over the heartbreak of Chris Eccleston and David Tennant moving on and how could they do this to me). I miss calling my brother my alipin saguiguilid. I miss my dad's old fogey-ness and I even miss my mother's Ilonggo kiss -- the kiss sabay singhot or in English, the kiss combined with the smelling that aims to suck your life essence out of you.
And I miss my friends. I miss how easy it was to flag a cab to our usual haunts or to have brunches in awesome restaurants. I miss how crazy or how sweet or how mean and how caring they are. And on another note, I also miss them telling me stories. A friend just told me that she feels petty ranting considering what I'm going through. My first thought was "What does that mean, did you just leave me out of a juicy story how could you." Because of the nature of this work, there seems to be a thought that I'm above these stories... and believe me, I am not!
And holy macaroni, call me shallow, but I really miss my closet. I really miss dresses and shirts that don't have an Oxfam logo in them. I miss opening my closet and seeing variety, as opposed to seeing opened bags of luggage with donor logos coming at you. I call gender inequality that these shirts do nothing for a girl's figure. All my pictures of me in action? Well... there's a reason why all the Facebook profile photos of me at work are of my back because the front isn't doing me any favors.
I really miss great Mexican and Japanese food too. I walked into BQ mall and literally gasped out loud at the sight of the words MEXICAN in a restaurant, like it was the most important part of my world. And so I excitedly planned a dinner there and ordered a burrito.... and blasphemy, bit into it and discovered CORNED BEEF MASH. That was not a burrito. That was a massacre and a lie wrapped in white flatbread.
And then when I surface from my pity party, I rediscover why I am in love with my job. There's a reason why the tired has only hit near a couple of months into this, rather than two weeks after, like my body has to signal me to tell that silly mind to stop fooling myself and rest. Inasmuch as there are lowlights, the highlights show that the high is worth it.
Interviewing people on the side of the road...Mobile office in a carWhen an 84 year old man can outwalk you 45 min into a vehicle-impassable mountain barangay, you know you need to do a workout video
Fading letters used to say "WE NEED FOOD"This is the Bohol version of Temple RunI was excited to see this because I am fascinated by sinkholes
I can set up anywhere... try me!Go away, Yolanda!Bohol is ripe with these hilarious signs
Squish! Thank God no one was inside!Trial testing?Chocolate Hills are so normal now... But Tarsiers! Where the heck are you!?!
Because in my job, you are constantly schooled. And you're constantly learning. My biggest lesson this week and a poke in the bubble of feeling it go to my head was when a camp manager told us how grateful they were for all the help we were giving. And I felt a bit like crying and I told her it was nothing.... and then one of our veteran volunteers, Jire, who has been doing this for probably as long as I've been alive, said to her almost fiercely "Don't thank us. This is your right." It was a reminder to me that you do this not because you are awesome or wonderful or a saint. You do this because there are people who by luck or misfortune don't have the same opportunities as you do. They are entitled to the same basic rights you have but since they are unable to get it, it's your duty to do what you can to provide it to them. For goodness' sake, it's their right to have things like water and shelter. I shouldn't feel entitled and wonderful for giving them something I take for granted every single day. Right now, this encounter is the best lesson I've learned so far.
And when people insist on saying thank you, it's amazing. The above lesson told me I don't need to be thanked for something they deserve. But that they insist on doing it in the sincerest of ways, it makes you feel good on this Earth. People have painted "Thank you, Oxfam" on dug wells we've repaired, put up thank you signs on latrines we've built, insisted on feeding us what they could even if we have said repeatedly that they didn't have to. They've showed their appreciation to us by appreciating what we've worked on, like protecting latrines we've built when Haiyan passed through. I'm grateful to be in this job where you get to see the appreciation of people firsthand. I'm not so grateful to be in a line of work that my tear ducts have a high risk of turning on at any given time but eh, you take what you can get.
Because every single day is something new and different and quite frankly, never boring. I miss my desk in my Oxfam but I know that within a week, I will get antsy and you will find me wandering around the office, looking for people. Here, I can look at my upcoming week and be excited for it to start. On Monday, I can be a coastal barangay; on Tuesday, I can be in a mountain barangay; On Wednesday, I can be on an island; on Thursday, I can be a meeting (can't win 'em all); on Friday, I could be in Cebu. There's always something different to look forward to.
Because the team I work with is inspiring. We're all different ages and from different organizations (because we work with partners here) but the work ethic is incredible. I learn something different all the time. A year ago, if you had told me I could cost water systems and know what the heck a submersible pump is, I'd tell you were joking and possibly high. But now, I'm learning all of these things and truly enjoying it... even if a lot of the conversation revolves around where poop should go. The team is small and they work long hours but they don't complain. They're all here and they all are so comfortable in what they do. And I am so grateful that the communities appreciate them the way I do.
So I guess what I'm saying is that I am whiny as heck but secretly (or not so secretly, because I just blogged about this) I love what I do. To be in a field where I get to enjoy myself as much as I do? I don't understand when people tell me how good I must be, to work through the holidays, to live away from home. I'm super not good or nice (I just whined about missing Christmas when people are living in tents!). Truth is, I'm thankful to be in a field where I get to have fun. I get to try and make something better (although... uphill battle). I get to challenge myself. I get to do something different every single day. Every single time I go to one of our areas, I think to myself "man, you like puzzles? Well, this is a heck of a giant Sudoku puzzle. Now have at it." I may not have envisioned this when I was a kid and thinking of what I wanted to be (a corporate lawyer. Really, kid?). But I sure as heck think 7 year old me would be A-okay with what I'm doing right now. :)
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.